NRA chief Wayne LaPierre announces resignation ahead of trial

Analysis on Litigation

The longtime head of the National Rifle Association said Friday he is resigning, just days before the start of a civil trial over allegations he treated himself to millions of dollars in private jet flights, yacht trips, African safaris and other extravagant perks at the powerful gun rights organization’s expense.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president and chief executive officer, said his departure is effective Jan. 31. The trial is scheduled to start Monday in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit against him, the NRA and two others who’ve served as executives. LaPierre was in court this week for jury selection and is expected to testify at the trial. The NRA said it will continue to fight the lawsuit, which could result in a further shakeup of its leadership and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee its finances.

“With pride in all that we have accomplished, I am announcing my resignation from the NRA,” LaPierre said in a statement released by the organization, which said he was exiting for health reasons. “I’ve been a card-carrying member of this organization for most of my adult life, and I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom. My passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever.”

James, a Democrat, heralded LaPierre’s resignation as an “important victory in our case” and confirmed the trial will go on as scheduled. His exit “validates our claims against him, but it will not insulate him or the NRA from accountability,” James said in a statement.

Andrew Arulanandam, a top NRA lieutenant who has served as LaPierre’s spokesperson, will assume his roles on an interim basis, the organization said.

LaPierre, 74, has led the NRA ’s day-to-day operations since 1991, acting as the face and vehement voice of its gun-rights agenda and becoming one of the most influential figures in shaping U.S. gun policy. He once warned of “jack-booted government thugs” seizing guns, brought in movie star Charlton Heston to serve as the organization’s president, and condemned gun control advocates as “opportunists” who “exploit tragedy for gain.”

In one example of the NRA’s evolution under LaPierre, after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, in 1998, the NRA signaled support for expanded background checks for gun purchases. But after a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, LaPierre repudiated background checks and called for armed guards in every school. He blamed video games, lawmakers and the media for the carnage, remarking: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

“The post-Sandy Hook apocalyptic speech was kind of the talismanic moment when, for him and the NRA, there was no going back,” Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York-Cortland and author of several books on gun politics.

The NRA remains a strong political force, with Republican presidential hopefuls flocking to its annual convention last year. In recent years, though, the organization has been beset by financial troubles, dwindling membership, and infighting among its 76-member board along with lingering questions about LaPierre’s leadership and spending.

After reporting a $36 million deficit in 2018, fueled mostly by misspending, the NRA cut back on longstanding programs that had for decades been core to its mission, including training and education, recreational shooting and law enforcement initiatives. In 2021, the organization filed for bankruptcy and sought to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, where it was founded as a nonprofit charity in 1871 — but a judge rejected the move, saying it was a transparent attempt to duck James’ lawsuit.

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